Pension reforms must deliver affordable and adequate benefits, warns OECD


17/03/2011 - Recent reforms will still be insufficient to cover increased pension costs in the future, despite increases in retirement ages in half of OECD countries, according to a new OECD report.

Pensions at a Glance 2011 says that by 2050 the average pensionable age in OECD countries will reach 65 for both sexes. This represents an increase of about 1.5 years for men and 2.5 years for women. But life expectancy is rising even faster, outstripping the increase in pension ages by about 2 years for men and 1.5 years for women. This means that in all but five OECD countries the time spent in retirement will continue to grow. Recent reforms are a step in the right direction to rein in public pension spending rising as a result of population ageing. The size of the working-age population in the OECD will peak around 2015 and decline by over 10% in 2050. But governments should consider the impact of benefit cuts on the most vulnerable. Pension reforms in OECD countries since the early 1990s have reduced future benefits on average by 20 per cent.


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In Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, for example, workers on low wages only get pensions worth around half of their previous earnings.


“Further reforms are needed that are both fiscally and socially responsible,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “We cannot risk a resurgence of old-age poverty in the future. This risk is heightened by growing earnings inequality in many countries, which will feed through into greater inequality in retirement.”


Public pensions are the cornerstone of old age incomes today, accounting for 60% on average. The other 40% is made up almost equally of income from work and from private pensions and other savings. As public benefits are reduced through reforms, these other two sources will need to fill the gap.


“Higher pension ages are only part of the answer,” said Mr Gurría.  “Countries need to do more to fight discrimination, to provide training opportunities for older workers and to improve their working conditions . This would help employers adapt to a greyer workforce.”  

Encouraging people to invest more in private pensions is also key. Some countries, such as Germany and New Zealand, for example, have successfully broadened coverage of private retirement provision. Ireland and the United Kingdom are also taking innovative steps in this direction. 


Reforms that reduce public pension spending should protect the most vulnerable – low earners and people with interrupted careers – from the full force of benefit cuts, as has been done in Finland, France and Sweden. Australia and the UK have increased benefit levels for low-income retirees.



Pensions at Glance 2011 provides comparative indicators on the national pension systems of the 34 OECD countries, as well as for Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. It includes special chapters on issues including life expectancy, trends in retirement and working at older ages, and ways to help older workers find and retain jobs.


Country-specific highlights on selected OECD countries and other highlights of the report are available at
For more information, journalists should contact the OECD Media division,  or  + 33 1 45 24 97 00).

To complete the report, the following country notes are available:


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